NEW YORK – If this were a dress rehearsal for a more important game in a couple of weeks, the Twins have to feel encouraged about Ervin Santana’s prospects in a ballpark that hasn’t been kind to him.
Of course, if Santana’s teammates don’t hit better this week, that game never will take place.
Santana fell to 0-5 in his career at new Yankee Stadium, but don’t panic: The Twins’ best pitcher lived up to his billing Monday, limiting the Yankees to two runs and, with one notable exception, nothing but a handful of singles all night. He left the loser in a 2-1 Yankees victory, but it was a performance the Twins gladly would sign up for in a potential wild-card playoff game.
Well, everyone but Santana.
“No, I want to pitch better than this one,” he said after falling short of his 16th victory for a second straight start. “If we get a chance, I want to get a win.”
Those chances remain reasonably good, though the Angels drew a half-game closer, narrowing the Twins’ lead to 1½ games for the right to take on the AL East runner-up on Oct. 3.
Santana allowed a hit an inning, but made only one real mistake, and by limiting New York to 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position, none of the Yankees’ seven singles was particularly harmful. That’s a skill that will come in handy in a couple of weeks.
“There was a little congestion at times, but he made pitches with two outs,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “They make you work, and you’re going to have to pitch around some jams at times. He did a nice job of handling that.”
Except for one time: Aaron Judge smashed Santana’s eighth pitch 395 feet into the right field seats, Judge’s AL-leading 44th homer and a reversal of the home run drought the rookie endured at Target Field in July. And Eddie Rosario might have discovered a reason for that: “Judge’s homer here today,” he pointed out, “is a fly ball in Minnesota,” where a deeper and taller wall would have kept the ball in play.
But if this ballpark is such a bandbox, why did the Twins, who had homered in a franchise-record-tying 16 consecutive games, who hit a half-dozen in their most recent game here 15 months ago, who have clubbed 36 in 28 games here, go homerless for the first time all month?
“To hit homers,” Rosario said, “I think you need to have contact first.”
Ah, good point. The Twins had little of that off Jaime Garcia, whose reunion with his six-day teammates wasn’t a particularly happy one. The lefthander, acquired in a trade and dealt away in a week’s span in July, struck out seven of the first 10 Twins he faced, mostly with their complicity.
“We got a little overaggressive against Garcia. We were chasing a lot of pitches, didn’t keep him in the [strike] zone,” Molitor said. “He was smart enough to see we were having trouble laying off pitches, so he didn’t challenge us on fastball counts very often. He relied on us being aggressive.”
The Twins’ lone run was thanks to an error by Judge, allowing Rosario to reach third on a single, and he scored on a force play. The Yankees’ tiebreaking run was equally unmemorable, on a sacrifice fly by Todd Frazier, set up by a damaging wild pitch.
The real drama came in the eighth inning, when Yankees righthander Dellin Betances hit Robbie Grossman with a pitch then walked the bases full. Up came Joe Mauer, and down went the Twins’ chances in flames. Or rather, Aroldis Chapman’s flaming fastball. He threw three pitches to Mauer: a 100-mph heater that Mauer took for a strike, a 101-mph fastball that Mauer tipped, and a 102-mph finisher that Mauer swung through.
“That [last one] was a tough one to handle,” Mauer said. “I’d love to have that opportunity again.”
He'll get a couple more chances the next two days, and he might even get another one in a couple of weeks.